Horror & Dark Fantasy

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Poetry

if the ghosts haunt you, bind them in ink

I first began writing these journal entries to hide a secret inside of them. Jadeera, a character in my novel Within Sight, was confronted with this unsolvable mystery. Giant sea monsters started washing ashore with strange markings on their bellies—some dead, others half-dead and furious, wreaking havoc on her village. I created an artifact, the leather-bound leaflet in which these entries are penned, because Jadeera needed to look to the past for answers. I set out to explain how an entire crew aboard an exploration vessel was lost at sea, how the same strange markings had been found on their bellies. But I got swept up in their lives. Who were they? What did they seek? The epitaphs here are merely one clue to unraveling the ghosts’ unsolved mystery.

—SC

The following excerpts were originally penned in the leather-bound leaflet of Knots Keiro, passenger of the Boon on its quest from Khalide to Talexere.

if the ghosts haunt you
bind them in ink

• • • •

at sea the dead take too long to sink
falling to the calligraphy of coral
bed of eternal sleep
I will not be infected by fear
of the ghosts I bind in ink

• • • •

here lies the plum boy

on the surface
like driftwood
floats a mosaic
of milky moonstones
stretching out
like ungrounded
archipelagos
they are backs
without spines
translucent and lack bone
yet pulse with life
the boy who shared
a plum with me
is tempted to touch
and falls overboard
we try to reach him with oars
but under the surface
a web of tentacles takes him
moonstone mouths close
the next day they are gone

• • • •

here lies the rear oarsman

a dead fountain
is in lack of water
but the sea never dries
a frozen pond
is in lack of sunlight
but the sea stops for nothing
the body is a body of water
the stomach reflects
the sea that surrounds it
with crescent waves colliding
the rear oarsman cannot help but vomit
without sustenance he starves

• • • •

to face death at sea
is to be robbed
of grave; monsters
grow old in it
waiting to collect
the fallen
to make bread
or abode of them
innumerable
bodies in this one
shifting body
it is no place
to rest

• • • •

here lies the captain

we found him this way
at sunrise:
a perfect line cut
from gut to throat
his insides out
like red tentacles
they say they tried
to cut the sickness
out of him
they say he attempted
to do the same
for his first mate
he was beyond repair
they call it an Everest
the thing they took out
like a plague
blossoms in the stomach

• • • •

we won’t all make it
to distant shores, the promise
of gem forests and jewel dew
of tonics and eternal life
most of us will learn
the color of horror
to grant passage
for the few
who will make it

Susan Calvillo

Susan Calvillo is a Chinese/Mexican-American mother of 2020 twins and the author of Excerpts From My Grocery List (Beard of Bees). Her short works have appeared in Eye to the Telescope, Zyzzyva, New American Writing, West Wind Review, and other charming magazines. She co-hosts the reading series Poets Upstairs in San Francisco. Keep reading at susancalvillo.com, follow on TikTok @thatbeardlessbard, or simply watch her eat cake and plant cacti on Instagram @susan_calvillo.